Ship reportedly ignores Israeli request to divert to Egyptian port of El-Arish.
By Anshel Pfeffer Published 15:48 13.07.10
The Israeli navy on Tuesday made radio contact with a Libyan-sponsored ship sailing for Gaza in defiance of a maritime blockade, a military spokeswoman said.
"The navy just began its process of trying to stop the ship," she said. "At this time the process of communicating with them has begun."
An Israeli ship warned the Moldovan-flagged, Greek-registered Al-Amal that it was entering a closed military zone.
The ship, which left Greece on Saturday afternoon, was commissioned by the Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation, headed by Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi, second son of Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi.
"The Ship's Captain was asked by the gunboat crew to go to El-Arish port instead, stressing that the vessel will not be allowed to go into Gaza at all," the foundation said in a statement on its website.
"The captain and the head of the foundation's team on board affirmed that the Ship's sole destination is Gaza, asserting that it is carrying humanitarian aid and has no other purpose whatsoever, while the gunboat is still present near the ship," it added.
Meanwhile, Israeli forces prepared to board the boat, seeking to avoid confrontation. Six weeks ago, nine pro-Palestinian activists were killed when navy commandos stormed a Turkish aid ship, prompting international condemnation and two national inquiries.
Israel Radio reported that the government was also exploring diplomatic channels in an attempt to persuade the Al-Amal to turn back.
The Al-Amal, carrying 15 pro-Palestinian activists and 12 crew members and 2,000 tons of food and medicine is expected to arrive off the coast of Gaza by Wednesday morning.
On Monday the Foreign Ministry advised the defense establishment to wait until the ship approaches or enters the coastal strip's territorial waters before making any attempt to stop it, to avoid the risk of breaking international law.
Aboard the 92-metre vessel are a crew of 12 from Haiti, India and Syria, under the command of a Cuban-born captain. Most of the activists on board are from Libya, except for one Nigerian, one Algerian and one Moroccan.
In Gaza, preparations for the ship's arrival were already underway on Tuesday, with local residents adorning the main harbor with Libyan flags and posters bearing the image of the Libyan leader.
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